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September 7, 2006

McGavick's Clintonian inspiration

Posted by David Postman at 8:24 AM

If you've read Danny Westneat this morning you know he thinks it's time to move on from the Mike McGavick DUI story.

After dedicating his second column to the subject, Westneat asks: "Can we talk about something else now?"

Nope, not yet. Because something else Danny wrote grabbed my attention. He said of McGavick: "It was his Clintonesque impulse to spill out all his remorse that bugged me."

Bill Clinton is important in understanding why McGavick made his public confession. McGavick's open letter to voters was his try to live up to what he calls "authenticity." And in that, Clinton is his model.

The very philosophy of the public confession is a key piece of the foundation of McGavick's candidacy. Long before his decision to write about his drunken driving, divorce and more public misdeeds, McGavick gave a lot of thought to the art and/or science of PDA, the just-now-coined, Public Display of Apology.

In another plug for a fellow Timesman, Jim Brunner today reports on the 1988 Slade Gorton campaign that McGavick managed:

That race hinged, in part, on Gorton convincing voters he was sorry for having grown arrogant and aloof during his previous Senate term, a strategy that reflected "McGavick's personality more than Gorton's politics," a Seattle Times article noted at the time.

I saw this McGavick personality trait most clearly in one of the first major speeches I saw him give this year. It was at the Mainstream Republicans conference in May. (You can watch or listen to it at TVW.) McGavick began by talking about the decline of trust among Americans.

"Whether in the corporate world or the political world, we see less trust every day."

He said there were four words that were important in trying to rebuild trust: authenticity, transparency, diversity and civility.

McGavick said that authenticity is what some people would call integrity. But he said authenticity is a "richer word."

"Because authenticity to me means you are consistent in exposing your inner motivations. You are open and true to your motivations and honest and open about those motivations with others. So there is completeness to who you are. It is an authentic being. And we sense authenticity in a very powerful way. I think it is one of the great human skills."

To describe what he meant by authenticity, McGavick compared Clinton's Monica Lewinksy scandal to former UW football coach Rick Neuheisel's firing over his involvement in basketball gambling pools.

"In both cases I think any fair observer could say there were lapses in integrity. I think any fair observer could say that. But despite parallel lapses in integrity, one of those people kept their job and the other was thrown out of their job. And I thought hard about why is it that we had this different reaction. Because certainly we would say the stakes of the president are higher than the stakes of the football coach, especially when Husky football is performing poorly we say this."

McGavick said it was because even though no one was especially surprised that Clinton was unfaithful to his wife, the president had a "deeper quotient of authenticity."

"It was who we expected him to be in a sense. But we believed he had integrity when it came to his public trust, his service as president. And as a result, when he finally came clean there was some sense of forgiveness, completion and moving on. So we had a different reaction.

"But alternatively, when it was the football coach and they lied, it was so at the center of irresponsibility to the job — that we expected that they were going to be teaching young men how to be better people — that it violated all authentic ability to serve the job. Isn't that an interesting thing? We forgave the president. We fired the football coach. I think it shows the richness, the power, of authentic behavior, and our judgment, our good judgment, when we have it in front of us."

By most assessments, McGavick's confession did not end up projecting authenticity. But that wasn't because of lack of forethought on McGavick's part. He seems to have the theory down, but still needs work on the practice. Which could probably be said about most of us.

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